[Beowulf] Need Help...!

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Sat Oct 23 09:14:22 PDT 2004

On Sat, 23 Oct 2004, Kamran Mustafa wrote:

> Hi,
> I am working as an IT Manager at NED University of Engineering &
> Technology, Karachi, Pakistan, and currently managing a Linux based
> Cluster of 50 nodes. I just wanted to ask you that how to manage
> licensing issues on a beowulf cluster. Lets say, if you want to run an
> application software on 50 nodes then will you purchase 50 licenses of
> that software or if there is any other alternative to handle this
> licensing issue, because purchasing such a huge number of licences
> will definitely be very expensive. Actually, I also want to purchase
> different software for my 50 noded cluster but purchasing 50 licences
> of each software costs me alot, thats why I am in need of your
> guidance and kind suggestions.
> Regards,
> Muhammad Kamran Mustafa

Dear Kamran,

Please give us a bit more detail. In particular, what software are we
talking about?  Different packages have very different licensing schmea,
and one usually has to go with what a package supports.  For example,
matlab is in use on some clusters on campus here.  matlab uses a
license manager that can regulate the number of instances of matlab in
use on a cluster.  Quite a few packages, actually, use a license manager
that can regulate the number of packages one has to buy relative to the
number of platforms one wishes to run them on, but of course this is a
case by case thing.

Compilers have a slightly different issue.  There there may be floating
license managers, but because compiler usage is sporadic many sites just
buy a single license and put in on a specific node, e.g. the head node
or the server node (which has direct access to the disk and thus avoids
a networking hit).  The issue there is libraries -- many compilers come
with special libraries that are part of how they get good performance.
In some cases the libraries can be used on many systems as long as you
buy the compiler/library package for one.  I don't know the exact state
of things now but at one point in time at least you had to by library
licenses for every node for at least some compilers out there in order
to run the binaries generated by a compiler-licensed node.

Finally there is the OS itself -- commercial linux distributions.  There
the licensing arrangements are whatever you dicker out of the company.
Unfortunately, most of the companies about clusters and what consitutes
"reasonable" cost scaling in a cluster where 50-500 systems are
literally clones of a basic node configuration, and will cheerily charge
hundreds of dollars per node as if those nodes generate some sort of
incremental cost for "support".  I think it is safe to say that "most"
cluster sites avoid this cost by using e.g. Centos (logo-free GPL-based
rebuild of RHEL), Fedora Core, Debian, Caosity -- one of the still-free
linux distributions.  As a FC user, I can attest to the fact that it is
entirely possible to assemble a stable and highly functional cluster
node (or desktop workstation) on top of FC.  Admins tend to lean a bit
more towards Centos for high availability/mission critical servers in
the expectation of a bit more immediate support, but in the case of a
cluster server I'd fully expect FC to be adequately stable and provide
good performance.  So if your issue is OS license management, I'd
suggest going toward one of the fully open/free linuces -- those will
certainly minimize your per-box outlay, and from what I can tell there
is basically no difference whatsoever in ease of installation or
maintenance.  You can even get your cluster installation prepackaged for
you (for free) from e.g. ROCKS or wulfware, which seem to be
stabilizing and have active participants that are keeping them nicely

Hope this helps.  If you want better help, please include detail -- the
specific packages you're concerned about, the particular setup of your
cluster, and what sort of licensing scheme the packages are supposed to
use (the vendors should be able to help you out here).


> I.T. Manager
> Centre for Simulation & Modeling, 
> NED University of Engineering & Technology,
> Karachi, Pakistan.
> Tel: (9221) 9243261-8 ext 2372
> Fax: (9221) 9243248
> _______________________________________________
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Robert G. Brown	                       http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at phy.duke.edu

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